Kay Fanning of the Anchorage Daily News

By Howard C. Weaver
The Sacramento Bee


Perhaps we should date Kay Fanning's leadership moments from that day when she walked away from her desk in the news library at the Anchorage Daily News to take over for the editor and publisher, her husband, who had just died at his desk in the newspaper office.

It would have been predictable for an untested publisher at a struggling No. 2 newspaper to chart a course designed for minimum boat rocking. In a small town dominated by a larger competitor whose publisher was also the Chamber of Commerce president, many would have spoken more of discretion than of valor. Not Kay Fanning.

Kay Fanning

When it seemed like all of Alaska was celebrating the imminent arrival of TransAlaska Pipeline construction crews, she commissioned a long, tough-minded series on Arctic oil exploration called "Oil on Ice" that later became a Sierra Club battle book. While much of the state wrestled with subtle discrimination and outright racism involving Alaska native people, she stood behind the reporters who had produced a groundbreaking series called "The Village People" chronicling conditions in the rural Alaska bush.

Her willingness to stand up in the face of extraordinary special interest pressure was nowhere better demonstrated than in her insistent championing of the investigation of Alaska's Teamsters Union, which was the 1976 Pulitzer Prize winner for public service.

In a newsroom with fewer than two dozen staff, she assigned two of us full-time to that project. In a state where the Teamsters Union had clout equally prevalent in the Legislature and the marketplace, she insisted on a thorough and an honest examination.

'Her leadership moment has truly stretched across many decades.'
Reports of economic retribution against her paper persisted for years afterward. The payoff for such bravery was not immediately apparent. The same year her newspaper won Alaska's first Pulitzer Prize, she was forced to lay off 40 percent of the staff and appeal to the community for contributions to keep publishing. But publish she did.

And her Anchorage Daily News -- since 1979, a McClatchy Newspaper -- later prospered mightily, eclipsing its once dominant rival and winning another Pulitzer Prize enroute to becoming the state's preeminent publication.

Kay Fanning, the first woman President of ASNE, left the Daily News in 1983 to edit the Christian Science Monitor and she died last October in Boston. But she lived to see the fruits of her endeavors in Anchorage. Her leadership moment has truly stretched across many decades.

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This was a "leadership moment" presented at the ASNE Convention April 3, 2001, at the J.W. Marriott Hotel in Washington, D.C.